In spring of 2015, Courtney from Eat Pray Run DC connected me with her friend Anna who was moving to Pittsburgh, thinking we might like to run together. She was right. Anna, my friend Jamie, and I ran together for a year before Anna’s husband got a job in DC and they had to move back. Jamie and I were upset to lose our running buddy, so the three of us decided to enter the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler lottery and, if we got in, have a fun weekend together. When we got in, I had initially planned on using the race as a training run in my half marathon training. But then half marathon training fell apart, I took a running break and stopped training for a longer distance, then started 80/20 5K training…so going into the weekend I really didn’t know what to do about the race, even whether to run the 10 miles or drop down to the 5K.
Jamie and I drove down in nonstop pouring rain Friday. We were exhausted when we got in and had to nap before meeting Anna for drinks and dinner that night. It was so much fun and great to see Anna again. We talked about my dilemma. I was originally supposed to run 7 all-easy miles, but when I calculated my 80/20 ratio, I realized I only needed to run 5 miles at an easy pace per heart rate. But my easy heart rate zones are so slow I worried it would put me really behind and I wouldn’t make the time cutoff. Plus, what if I ran the first half easy and couldn’t speed up for the second half? It had been a whole month since I ran 10 miles (for the Spring Thaw race), and that was a miserable experience. Should I just do the 5K instead? Jamie came up with a great plan: Run the first 5 faster and the second 5 easier. Anna liked that plan and agreed to run with me. Jamie planned to run on her own.
On Saturday we picked up our bibs with no problem. We found parking right by the expo, and there was no wait. It was a bit crowded in the expo, but nothing terrible. Then we went to meet Courtney for lunch. It was great meeting her, and we spent a while chatting. Of course we talked about running, and Courtney essentially gave me a free therapy session. In a nutshell, her analysis was that I’d had a string of bad runs early in half marathon training and got it in my head that something was wrong with me and that all my fitness was gone. When I told her what my paces were a year ago compared to today, she didn’t think it was possible to gain that much fitness from doing the Hansons’ marathon training and then lose it so quickly (in two weeks of no running following my marathon). The “My paces have dropped; I can’t do this training; something must be wrong with me” thoughts were likely a self-fulfilling prophecy, causing me to have bad runs which further cemented the idea that something was wrong. She suggested that I use Cherry Blossom to reset my thinking, to just run and have a good race without getting bogged down in worrying about my paces and not being able to finish. I’d never even considered the idea that my slump was all in my head and, more important, that I had the power to change it up. Hearing Courtney say all this was very powerful. I knew she was right. And I wanted to make the first step out of my slump happen in the race.
Jamie and I both woke up at 3:30 a.m., and neither of us could fall back asleep. We got out of bed when our alarms went off, ate bagels that neither of us were hungry for, and sleepily got dressed. “Race day morning sucks,” Jamie said.
I’d brought three different race outfits because I wasn’t sure of the temperature and am so glad I decided to wear the warmest of the options (a mid-weight longsleeve, tank top, and capris from Athleta). It was 42 degrees, and I was freezing. I unfortunately didn’t wear gloves, and my hands were like blocks of ice the entire race, even after the rest of me heated up. We met up with Joanna in the corral (Joanna had driven down with her friend Amber; we’d met up with them Saturday afternoon for a fun and relaxing few hours in a cider house). Joanna was warm and was going to toss her throw-away jacket, so I took it. Warmth! I was so happy and loved the jacket. I planned to keep it the whole race but it got so hot that I had to give it up at the first water stop.
We’d been in shade in our corral, and it felt so good to get into the bright sunshine once we started. I planned to run a moderate pace in the first half of the race–hard enough to take some effort but not so hard that I was destroyed and had to crawl the second half. I had my Garmin set so I couldn’t see pace. The course was crowded, but Anna and I were able to stay together the whole race, and we didn’t have to weave around people until the very end. It seemed everyone near us was running our pace, which was great.
The first 5 miles go through the city and past some historic landmarks. Anna is originally from DC, so she played tour guide and pointed out things I wouldn’t have known, like Robert E. Lee’s house on the hill and how sections of the city we were passing through had changed. Getting to the 5-mile mark was our goal because we knew we could then take it easy. So we ticked off the first 5 miles. They went pretty fast. We were talking the whole time and felt good, but a few times I looked at my heart rate and saw it was pretty high. I knew that meant that if I continued at that pace for the full 10 miles, I would be entering the danger zone where a race turns from fun to miserable. Spectators were out along the first 5 miles. It’s been a very long time since I ran a race with spectators. I’d forgotten most races have spectators! There were enough to distract me but not enough to make me irritated (like the Pittsburgh Half Marathon, which seems to have more spectators than runners.)
Before we knew it, we were at mile 5. I hadn’t checked our pace, but on my watch I saw we hit the halfway mark in 59 minutes, so I knew we were in no danger of not making the 2:20 cut-off. We’d planned to walk when we hit halfway, and I wanted to walk until my heart rate fell into the easy zone. It took a long time for that to happen. Once we started running again, my heart rate immediately skyrocketed. So again we walked. And again when we started running, my heart rate went up. That happened enough times that I knew there was no way I could get my heart rate into the easy zone, so we just tried to run very slowly and only walked through the water stops.
The second part of the race is through Hains Point, and I’d kept hearing that it was a tough part of the course because there were no spectators. Of course, I loved it. It was through a park with cherry blossoms all around. It was so beautiful. Even though there were people all around us, it felt so peaceful. It was so relaxing and scenic, everyone was laughing and taking pictures and in good moods, and I was genuinely loving the race. And the miles just went by quickly and easily.
In the last mile we came out of the park, and there were spectators from there to the finish line. There were big cheer groups, including one from November Project, all so enthusiastic, screaming motivation, and so encouraging. It definitely made us quicken our pace! And then, shortly before the finish line, we reach the hill. The entire course is completely flat, and there’s a hill at the end??? Granted, it was more of an incline than a hill and wasn’t a big deal, but still! We crested the hill and just as we were starting to sprint down the hill to the finish, a family of tourists walked right into the course and into our path. All the spectators booed and told them how rude they were. They deserved it–I mean, right before the finish line they try to cross the road??? But that was the only negative thing about the race.
When I crossed the finish line, I had a big smile on my face. This was exactly the kind of race I needed to reset my running.
When I looked at my stats later, I was really proud of how I paced myself by effort. My heart rate zones for moderate to hard effort are 149-163, with my highest heart rate zone being over 164. You can see from my average heart rate that I hit that intensity exactly in the first 5 miles. My low heart rate zone is 138 and less, and you can see I never hit that in the second 5 miles, but my pace is in my easy range. I’m happy I was able to stick to my race plan so well.
Funny story is that when I looked up my official race results, I saw that there was another runner with my name and my age–but she ran a 1:26:54. Ha–definitely not me!
We met up with Jamie, and then I went to get my medal. You had the option to buy a medal, and I’m glad I opted for the medal, because it’s beautiful! Chaitali had said she’d be volunteering at the finish line. I kept looking for her and didn’t see her and figured I wouldn’t because it was so crowded. Then, when I went to get my medal, I thought I saw her. She was busy, and I know she didn’t see me, so I went up to her. It was her, and we had a chance to talk briefly. I didn’t want to bother her too much since it was so busy in that area, but I was glad we at least got to say hi.
It was a gorgeous day, and I was filled with happiness as we left the race, had brunch, and then started the 4-hour drive back to Pittsburgh. This may be one of my all-time favorite races–I can see why there’s a lottery to get in. I loved it, and I feel like the race really did help me get my mojo back. I hope to do the race again!